March 11, 2013
Liz Mannis, Texas Media Relations
Texas Football met on Sunday, February 24, for its annual fine dining meal at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in downtown Austin. The dinner, an anticipated tradition in the football program, takes place during each student-athlete's first year on the team, during which etiquette coach Mary Ellen Oliver instructs the young men on proper and respectful conduct while at special events.
"I think manners are important for everything," said Oliver. "This event is expanding their world and making them think. They have so much limelight on them, but it makes them shine it back on the people they will be spending time with."
The annual event started as a combined effort between Coach Brown's wife Sally, academic/life skills counselor Jean Bryant, and Oliver. Sally had noticed during Coach Brown's tenure at North Carolina that his players constantly looked to her for guidance on what to order and how to act while at banquets and special events.
"Knowledge is power. We want to give them the skills they need so they can be successful. And it helps all the way through life - it will help them with their careers, family, children - all of it," explained Bryant.
While the format of the event has largely remained the same, one way it has evolved over the years includes Oliver discussing technology etiquette. She touched on the importance of knowing when cell phone use is inappropriate, and provided examples on how to respectfully approach use of technology in social settings.
Even as sophomores, wideout Cayleb Jones and linebacker Dalton Santos both already recognize the long-term value of such an event.
"Miss Mary Ellen taught us certain skills, so if you're at a formal event, you know how to conduct yourself or what to order. For example, if a lady is present, stand up if she's excusing herself from the table," said Jones. "Certain skills that we learned tonight we'll use for the rest of our lives in business meetings and at formal events."
"I'm walking out of here with a lot more experience with [etiquette]," said Santos. "It's going to pay off in the long run. You get 20 years down the road, 10 years down the road, and you're looking for a job, or when you've got a pretty lady you want to take out -- you've got to be able to impress them. That's part of how you market yourself."
Bryant has noticed the experience pay off as former attendees progress through their time at Texas.
"You notice the difference after attending this event. They start this as a freshman, then as they get older you see how much more comfortable and relaxed they are in any setting. So it's definitely something that carries on with them," said Bryant.
Embedding the etiquette lesson in a delicious meal shared between the players and their coaches provides a unique and comfortable learning environment for all in attendance. From the moment everybody was seated, through the four-course meal, Oliver coached the players through each step of the meal, providing guidance and examples to help solidify the information in their mind.
"I do [think it's important they learn it in a setting with their friends]. I don't think they'd sign up for a course in this at the University. They're really comfortable with their peers," said Oliver. "To bring them to a wonderful steakhouse like this -- everybody is wild about being able to come."
During the dinner, the coaches were as engaged as the players and asked a number of questions, which made their players feel more comfortable asking Oliver questions as well.
"I think that's really important. I think it sets the tone," said Oliver. "The players bask in that one-on-one conversation on a whole different level than the football field or in the hall or in the athletics center."
As it is, young men choose to attend Texas and play under head coach Mack Brown for a variety of reasons including an appreciation for the Longhorn traditions, love for the burnt orange, and a chance to step on the same field that legends like Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams and Vince Young once did.
But one reason that virtually every former Longhorn cites as why they ultimately chose Texas is Coach Brown's emphasis on creating a family atmosphere for his players. It's this atmosphere that cultivates his reputation for developing his young men into capable and contributing members of society following their football careers.
"I think that's a wonderful way to treat a football team - as a family," said Oliver as she explained the value of the etiquette dinner being on the slate of numerous opportunities and experiences Coach Brown and his staff affords to their football players.
"Everything Coach Brown does is great for us. He's always looking out for us, and he always has our best intentions in mind," noted Santos.
"It's awesome to be able to do what we do and to be able to come out and learn stuff like this."